In the cheese world, the term ripening (also called aging, curing or finishing) refers to the final and, for most cheeses, most important step of cheesemaking—when the cheese is brought to its optimal maturity of flavor, texture and aroma. During this time, the cheese is kept at carefully controlled levels of humidity and temperature, sometimes in cool, moist natural caves, such as France’s Cambalou caverns for Roquefort. But cheese is aged more commonly in ripening rooms where temperature, humidity and air circulation can be closely monitored. Part of the art of ripening is balancing the perfect environment with the precise number of days each style of cheese needs to ripen. For example, soft cheeses such as Camembert ripen quickly, and therefore require relatively low temperatures and high humidity (around 95 percent). Conversely, most hard cheeses take longer to ripen and therefore typically age best at a lower humidity level of no more than about 80 percent. The style of a cheese dictates the length of time it’s allowed to ripen, which ranges from a few days, to several weeks, to up to 2 years or more. During lengthy periods of ripening, the cheese loses moisture, which intensifies its flavors and aromas. The time and labor costs, added to a cheese’s weight loss during long-term aging, contribute to the higher price of such cheeses compared to mass-produced examples. In the United States ripened cheese must either be made from Pasteurized milk or must be aged for a minimum of 60 days at a temperature of not less than 35°F. See also Affinage; Affiné.
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